Beijing pollution may force new crackdown for Olympics
BEIJING: Less than two weeks before the Olympics, Beijing's skies are so murky and polluted that the authorities are considering emergency measures during the Games beyond the traffic restrictions and factory shutdowns that, so far, have failed to clear the air, state media reported on Monday.
For the past five days, Beijing has been a soupy cauldron of humid, gray skies. Local pollution ratings have exceeded the national standard for acceptable air since last Thursday, despite a temporary air pollution control plan that began on July 20.
Under that plan, officials have used odd-even license plate restrictions to reduce daily traffic by two million vehicles - more than half the city's total. Production at some factories also has been curtailed in Beijing and outlying areas.
But on Monday, China's official English-language newspaper, China Daily, ran a front-page story under a boldfaced headline: "Emergency green plan for Games." The article warned that officials may force far more vehicles off city streets - possibly 90 percent - and temporarily close more factories.
No timetable was announced, but a senior city engineer told China Daily that officials "would inform the public as early as possible about the details of the plan." The Olympics opening ceremony is on Friday of next week.
Pollution has been a pressing concern for the Games, as local organizers have promised to hold a "Green Olympics," despite the air that often ranks among the most polluted in the world. Some Olympic teams, including that of the United States, are providing optional breathing masks to protect athletes from respiratory problems.
Before Monday, Beijing officials had taken a determinedly upbeat approach about the pollution situation. At various news conferences, Beijing officials said pollution levels in July had fallen 20 percent compared to the same period a year ago. They blamed the soupy weekend weather on weeks of unusually heavy rains that left behind a humid summer haze. They said that even though emissions have fallen, pollution is still being trapped in the haze because of a lack of dispersing winds.